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Celebrating life in the midst of it all

In hospice, it's important to share memories

by Terre Mirsch

“Hospice affirms life.”

“Hospice is not about dying- it’s about living.”

These are common statements made to describe the philosophy of hospice care, with the belief that, even during difficult times, life can and does have quality moments.

Hospice founder Dame Cicely Saunders stated, “You matter because of who you are. You matter to the last moment of your life, and we will do all we can, not only to help you die peacefully, but also to live until you die.”

But how do you take the ‘idea’ of living and life quality and turn it into meaningful actions, connections, and dialogue while also finding time provide care, administer medications, arrange for physician, nursing, aide, and other team member visits… and maybe even try to take time for yourself… or take a nap…?

I recall one woman who took the idea of life celebration literally- she was not going to miss ‘the party’, so she rented a hall and threw herself a going-away party, literally and figuratively dancing the night away. Another family threw their own life celebration party on our hospice unit, using the opportunity to watch videos, display pictures, and reminisce; while another celebrated Christmas in April, ensuring that their mother had one more opportunity to celebrate her favorite holiday.

But parties aren’t for everyone. There are many ways to create legacy and remembrance, and to provide opportunity to celebrate life and all that is meaningful to your loved one. And they don’t have to take a lot of time. The ideas and opportunities are countless and are only limited by your imagination.

Perhaps one of the following ideas will ‘speak’ to you and your loved one:

  • Pictures can tell a thousand words. Perhaps it is time to sort through and organize those boxes of photos that have accumulated through the years. Don’t let the prospect of this overwhelm you- just take it one box at a time.
  • Discuss ‘favorites’ and, when possible, integrate them into daily life. Favorites can include favorite foods, movies, books, music, hobbies, and holidays. You might even be surprised at what you learn!
  • Digital recorders provide an easy way to record the memories of a life time- pick a topic (any topic!) and start a conversation. I recall the meaningful – and new—stories that we learned when Dad recorded important historical events of his life.
  • Assist your loved one in writing letters, sharing stories or offering words of wisdom.
  • Create recipe boxes or books. This is a great way to pass that favorite pound cake recipe on to future generations.

Acknowledging life’s meaning and accomplishments often brings peace and dignity, while healing takes place in the telling of the story. This process, often referred to as life review, is not only a ‘nice’ thing to do; it is an important part of life closure and letting go. Take a little bit of time each day to remember and celebrate what makes life and your loved special.

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